Ro­man­tic Eden

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - SENIOR - By SHEELA K By JOYCE HEE Malaya Times.

a sur­prise pro­posal in a beau­ti­ful gar­den thaws a crotch­ety re­tiree and draws a vil­lage to­gether.

IFOUND the wed­ding an­nounce­ment of my par­ents, pub­lished af­ter they tied the knot in May 1955. The news was con­tained in a yel­lowed but well-pre­served cut­ting of the (now de­funct) Malaya Times.times This and a few other washed-out pho­to­graphs were among the keep­sakes mum man­aged to sal­vage from the 2010 flash flood that de­stroyed their home in Kam­pung Ulu Temi­ang, Serem­ban.

Dad looked dash­ing in a suit and mum, who wore a gor­geous veil and an elab­o­rate satin sa­ree, car­ried a bou­quet of lilies. Any­one who had read the an­nounce­ment would have deemed it a ro­man­tic union.

How­ever, dad, a po­lice in­spec­tor, was a worka­holic who had eyes only for his ca­reer. And he con­vinced mum that mar­riage should have no sur­prises. In the early years of their mar­riage, he chose to ig­nore an­niver­saries and birth­days, never held her hands, un­der­es­ti­mated her brain power, and was posses-pos­ses­sive and crit­i­cal and “house-po­liced” her.

Through it all, my mother kept the peace and re­mained pa­tient while try­ing earnestly to un­der­stand the hard side of her taskmas­ter hus­band. If at all she felt un­mo­ti­vated and ready to leap out of the mar­riage, she would think of var­i­ous events or mo­ments that changed her per­spec­tive of him.

Among the many which she chose to speak can­didly about was the time a young Chi­nese gentleman came a-call­ing un­ex­pect­edly one hot af­ter­noon.

By then, dad had con­sid­ered him­self a re­tired soul, and would spend many hours in his huge “Gar­den of Eden”. He took pride in liven­ing up the place by us­ing re­cy­cled items like empty tins and pieces of sal­vaged scrap me­tal.

The neigh­bours thought him nutty and kept their dis­tance be­cause he seemed un­ap­proach­able. But the gar­den also drew cu­ri­ous on­look­ers who were mes­merised by his gar­den­ing and land­scap­ing skills. Mum of­ten found them talk­ing ex­cit­edly un­der the man­gos­teen tree, amongst the dif­fer­ent shades of green.

As the story goes, the young fel­low had fallen in love with a kam­pung lass and wanted to pro­pose to her on Valen­tine’s Day. He ex­plained to my fa­ther the sym­bolic mean­ing of his pro­posal, and asked for per­mis­sion to dec­o­rate our gar­den with lanterns, bal­loons and a huge ban­ner declar­ing his love, in Chi­nese char­ac­ters.

The path lead­ing to our home in the kam­pung wound over a bridge. Be­neath it was the river which flowed be­tween the main road and where the lass’ home was lo­cated.

My mum had seen the girl many times, and on more than one oc­ca­sion, had asked her when she was get­ting mar­ried. How­ever, she would only shrug her shoul­ders and say her boyfriend was not ro­man­tic and that they were both busy earn­ing a liv­ing in the city.

That evening, my dad was very ex­cited about the plans laid out by the love-stuck youth. Both my par­ents en­thu­sis­ti­cally be­gan clean­ing up their yard and re­ar­rang­ing pots of fragrant flow­ers. Old, dec­o­ra­tive coloured lights were brought out to add sparkle to the rusted iron gate.

Mum, who is 82 now, re­mem­bers feel­ing how sim­i­lar the prepa­ra­tions were to when they were get­ting ready for their own wed­ding in the same house.

The hus­tle and bus­tle the fol­low­ing day was tinged with an­tic­i­pa­tion; it did not just af­fect my par­ents. Ap­par­ently, the youth had in­formed the girl’s par­ents and they were now ex­cit­edly dis­cussing the clever “plot”, with the sup­port of dad and mum.

Many of the cou­ple’s friends poured into our com­pound car­ry­ing boxes filled with or­na­ments, lanterns and a huge, heart-shaped bou­quet of red roses. They ar­ranged the ban­ner along the bridge and then set up a sin­gle ta­ble with can­dles, a bot­tle of wine and a heart-shaped cake in our gar­den.

The en­tire day was filled with laugh­ter, songs and jokes amongst the younger gen­er­a­tion, who were try­ing to make the event as mem­o­rable as pos­si­ble.

At the last minute, my fa­ther sug­gested hav­ing a bar­beque and even brought out two huge, old oil drums and filled them with char­coal and net­ting.

Many of our im­me­di­ate neigh­bours, who had hardly said a word to him for years, sud- LOVE is a ro­bust ac­tion word, but my per­cep­tion of it in a hus­band­wife re­la­tion­ship has evolved from ro­man­tic ideals to a se­cure and in­sep­a­ra­ble com­rade­ship.

Be­fore mar­riage, my idea of my dream man was the stereo­typ­i­cal thor­ough­bred gentleman who rep­re­sented the age of chivalry – suave and ar­tic­u­late, with fine so­cial eti­quette and pol­ished man­ners.

Un­for­tu­nately (or rather, for­tu­nately), my real man turned out to be quite the op­po­site – a man of few words, far too prac­ti­cal and a mat­ter-of-fact Chi­na­man. Im­pres­sion­able and im­petu­ous as I was, I be­lieve it was God’s way of denly ap­peared with fresh chicken meat, nasi re­bung (rice cooked in bam­boo stems), sacks of newly plucked baby corn, and fruits. They wanted to be part of the merry event.

Faced with such an open dis­play of com­rade­ship, my fa­ther wel­comed one and all. Ac­cord­ing to mum, he cer­tainly “mended” his rep­u­ta­tion as a big-headed, deaf and ec­cen­tric old man in the eyes of his neigh­bours. So very of­ten, she added, she had hid­den her hurt when some­one ridiculed and at­tacked the man she loved be­hind his back.

The evening brought joy and a dif­fer­ent feel­ing that made my mother beam with giddy love. She ca­ressed my fa­ther’s shoul­ders as they waited for the sur­prise pro­posal to take place. The at­mos­phere made ev­ery­thing seem so ro­man­tic, so much so that the youth and his friends were soon teas­ing my par­ents in re­turn.

My fa­ther had al­ways be­lieved that his gar­den would be the ideal place to sit in dur­ing all the happy times, amidst all the dif­fer­ent plants.

True enough, the tall bam­boo stems swayed in the breeze as stream­ers of red rib­bon flut­tered against the lighted lanterns. Na­ture her­self was not left out, as but­ter­flies and bees flew around, and even squir­rels were seen peep­ing cu­ri­ously at the colour­ful dis­play in our gar­den.

As far as my fa­ther was con­cerned, all he wanted was for my mother to sit in the gar­den and en­joy the lit­tle things around her, to help her while away the hours.

The spe­cial Valen­tine’s pro­posal was the talk of the kam­pung for many months; it was even re­ported in a lo­cal Chi­nese daily. For weeks there­after, my par­ents re­ceived many re­quests from bridal cou­ples who wanted to have pho­to­graphs of their spe­cial day taken in n Old is gold, and bold. So, let us hear what you have to say, about what ex­cites you, makes you happy, sad or con­cerned. E-mail your views to star2@thes­tar.com.my. Pub­lished con­tri­bu­tions will be paid, so please in­clude your full name, IC num­ber, ad­dress and tele­phone num­ber. the scenic gar­den.

The youth con­fided in mum that dad had ad­vised him to make his union a shared jour­ney of love, chal­lenge, ro­mance, fun, tears and a de­sire to grow old to­gether.

My fa­ther also said that he was too old to mend his ways, but had re­alised, from the event, that he had de­prived mum of many happy mo­ments in their years to­gether.

My par­ents sus­tained their part­ner­ship of five decades un­til dad’s demise in Au­gust 2006, one month short of his 77th birth­day. mat­ter is ul­ti­mately the mat­ter of the heart.

The beauty of love is seen in sim­ple acts of sac­ri­fice, such as when the needs of one’s part­ner are placed above his or her own.

Over­tures of love are demon­strated in the gen­tle hold­ing of each other’s hand while walk­ing or cross­ing the road, and in fore­go­ing a plea­sur­able favourite pas­time by the hus­band, for ex­am­ple, just to in­dulge his wife with some­thing she en­joys, such as shop­ping or din­ing to­gether.

Ma­ture love is also more pa­tient and tol­er­ant. Per­haps age it­self mel­lows us. We are less given to fiery out­bursts and will adopt a gen­tler and less con­fronta­tional ap­proach

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